What does it mean to be hospitable?

“The answer lies close at hand, in the word itself. The biblical term for “hospitality” is really a combination of two words, “love” or “friendship” and “stranger.” Hospitality is not first of all a matter of offering a perfunctory word of welcome to someone whom we do not know. Nor does it consist simply in entertaining guests or furnishing a richly spread dinner table, though these may be very important ways of showing hospitality. In its simplest and most basic meaning, hospitality means showing a regard, an interest in, a special affection and favor toward, those who are strangers or aliens. In the life of the church, it means that all the members, but especially the officebearers, should make it a point to welcome and receive in a kind and gracious way those who are strangers to us or our fellowship.

Now, if you were to ask, why does our heavenly Father want His children to be hospitable?, the answer is clear: because the gospel is all about God’s gracious hospitality toward us sinners. Were we not strangers to God and His covenant? And yet, God took us in! Were we not outside the fellowship of Christ, by nature objects of God’s wrath? And yet, God embraced us in His favor. Were we not aliens in the earth, like our father Adam, banished from God’s presence? And yet, God came to us, invited us to sit at His table, dressed us in the garments of royalty, and furnished that table with the finest of foods.

How then could a believer, toward whom God has shown such extraordinary hospitality, refuse hospitality toward a brother or a sister who is a stranger?

Reformed churches and believers, especially pastors and elders, should not be, as so many allege, “xenophobic,” that is, characterized by an unnatural fear of strangers. They ought to be, by God’s grace, hospitable, known for their warm welcome and kindness toward strangers. Is this true of you? Of your congregation? Within the context of a church community that pursues hospitality, the proclamation of God’s gracious welcome to us in Christ will have the ring of authenticity.”

-Cornel Venema

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